Of course, President Trump and the Democrats do not agree on the border wall. As I write, the federal government is partially shut down because of this issue. If the stalemate does get resolved without a Democratic commitment to Trump’s vision of a border barrier, the House Democrats should address the issue. They need to emphasize that a wall is not an end initself, or at least it should not be. Instead it is a means to better border security. Democrats should be stressing that they believe in good border security, and that the Republican screed that Democrats believe in open borders is, to put it politely, bunkum. Democrats need to make clear that they oppose the wall because it is not a good way to get better border security.
This is yet another area where House Democrats should hold hearings. Make evident the shortcomings of the wall. The cost, of course, should be stressed as well as the likelihood of cost overruns. Any connections between the members of the construction industry who hanker for a piece of the wall-building action and the Republican Party should be highlighted. The wall’s impact on wildlife, streams, ranching, hunting, and fishing should be explored. Eminent domain, often reviled by conservatives and libertarians, will have to be used to get the private lands needed for the wall. Have those costs gone into the projected budget for the wall? How long will the court proceedings take? How many “jack-booted thugs” will be necessary to remove ranchers and homeowners from their lands?
A wall has intuitive appeal for increasing border security, and hearings should show that such simplistic thinking is wrong. Knowledgeable people should testify about the limited effectiveness of a wall. Witnesses experienced in border security should be presenting ideas that lead to better border security—methods that are cheaper, more efficacious, less harmful to the environment, less invasive of property rights, and more humane.
The hearings should produce a bill for better border security that the House can pass untethered, once again, from other issues. Perhaps the Senate Republicans will kill the proposals, but even so, the House passage of sensible border security measures helps the country by presenting competing ideas to the public, instead of a myopic focus on the wall. It should be good for the Democrats by giving a concrete (pun intended) proposal showing that Democrats care about border security but are also mindful of wasteful costs and other harms. And Democrats should also remember that a sizeable number of Republicans have not supported the wall. Maybe a coalition across the aisle can be fashioned to improve the country. Another novel idea.
And perhaps Democrats could start to tackle with solid, non-political hearings issues that politicians reflexively want to avoid but should be aired for the country’s sake. For example, how many know that the number of IRS auditors is now 9,5110, down a third from 2010 and that the rate of IRS audits has dropped 42 percent? These numbers are not surprising because the IRS budget has fallen by $2 billion. Politicians don’t want to go on record in favor of more audits, more IRS enforcement, but someone should be pointing out that corporations and the tax-cheating rich are the prime beneficiaries of lesser IRS enforcement. The government collects less money than it ought to, and the tax burden on the less wealthy increases. Serious, nonpartisan House hearings could try to explain these and many other realities to the country—realities that have gotten lost in the morass of political backstabbing.